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Troop surge

Mercenaries 2 does it the old-fashioned way
By AARON SOLOMON  |  September 16, 2008
3.0 3.0 Stars

HOO-RAH: There is really only one thing to do — blow shit up.

Mercenaries 2: World in Flames | for Xbox 360, PS2, PS3, PC | Rated T for Teen | Developed by EA Games and Pandemic Studios | Published by Electronic Arts
It’s tempting to write off Mercenaries 2: World in Flames, if only because of the noisy ads — they’re scored by an annoying white-boy rap song. The song, it turns out, is not part of the game; the rampant mayhem and ludicrous violence of the ads are here, however, and they grow even more ludicrous as you progress. Mercenaries 2 improves on the underwhelming original, and though it’s the latest in a long line of Grand Theft Auto clones, at least it should reside at the top of that ever-growing heap.

The Mercenaries sequel is more open-ended than the original. This turn toward an even greater “sandbox” style of play — à la GTA — is an attempt to remedy what many people found to be the first game’s fatal flaw: the long driving sessions between missions. But though the action has been transplanted from WMD-heavy North Korea to oil-rich Venezuela, there’s still a lot of ground to cover, and you’ll still be annoyed by all the traveling. On the plus side, there’s the visuals, which if not quite up to GTA IV quality are a decided improvement on the original’s last-generation version.

When you’re not working on contracts for the various factions or going out on your own to hunt down the oil-mongering Venezuelan president who wronged you (somewhere Dick Cheney is smirking), you can spend your time collecting bounties. These range from capturing or killing “High Value Targets” to destroying the buildings of rival factions. This too is a good way of killing time as well as targets while driving around.

Once again, you have the option of choosing your mercenary — but let’s be serious, most everybody will choose to play as Mattias, the dude on the cover who’s featured so prominently in the commercial and voiced by Peter Stormare, whom you may remember as one of the nihilists in The Big Lebowski. Mattias, whose special ability is that he’s able to regenerate quickly, is fond of screaming non-sequiturs in battle, and he likes to name his weapon. Which is cute, but it all gets repetitive, especially since he has only a handful of phrases in his repertoire. The same can be said for the game. There’s really only one thing to do: blow shit up, and when that’s done, blow some more shit up. The occasional lapses in the AI add to the frustration. And the only way to do multi-player is through the live connection on your system.

Which is not to say that Mercenaries 2 is entirely without charm. Because virtually everything you see on screen is interactive, you can rejoice in the multiplicity of ways there are to blow up your surroundings. I was reminded of the neo-classic War of the Monsters, in which you could use every part of the board as a weapon or something against which to slam your enemy.

As you advance through the game, you make friends who can help you in your quest and, should your battles become too haywire, provide you with air support. As you drive around, you will also discover large stashes of cash and various bombs and oil tankers that can be stolen once you’ve gotten yourself a helicopter pilot.

Throughout, tongues are firmly planted in cheeks, and a subversive tone prevails — think John Milius’s love of blowing shit up mixed with Michael Moore’s acrimony toward the current administration. With so much attention being paid nowadays to “realistic” shooters like Call of Duty and the amazing Gears of War, it’s refreshing to find a game that lets you re-create John Matrix’s epic violence spree at the end of Commando, Latin American villas and terrible accents included.

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